Tonight, Clemens' first pitch will be going to Piazza's mitt

NL battery mates shrug off angry confrontation in 2000

July 13, 2004|By Joe Christensen | Joe Christensen,SUN STAFF

HOUSTON - Mike Piazza knows this is Roger Clemens' night.

This is his town. This is his showcase.

So even though Piazza can't go a week without seeing replays of Clemens firing that fastball at his head and that splintered bat barrel at his feet, the New York Mets catcher said he's willing to put it all aside.

After all, these two have work to do tonight. They'll form one of baseball's most anticipated batteries ever, representing the National League in the 75th All-Star Game at Minute Maid Park.

Clemens announced his retirement last fall, and then let his hometown Houston Astros talk him into coming back for one more try.

At age 41, he's been one of the biggest stories of the season, going 10-3 with a 2.62 ERA, raising his career victory total to 320, and his career strikeout total to 4,220.

He'll be making his ninth All-Star appearance and third All-Star start, before legions of fans.

"Nothing should take away from this moment," Piazza said. "Obviously, it's a great opportunity for him, pitching in his home state. I'm happy to be a part of it. I'm going to play as hard as I can, play a good game.

"And hopefully he does well and I do well, and we'll win the ballgame."

Like last year, there's a little extra riding on the outcome. The winning league gets home-field advantage in the World Series.

But the Clemens and Piazza battery gives the whole thing a soap opera feel.

Their rivalry goes back to the 2000 season, when Clemens was pitching for the New York Yankees, and Piazza was catching for the Mets. That July, Clemens beaned Piazza.

The two teams met that October in the World Series, and things really got scary. In Game 2, Piazza broke his bat swinging against one of Clemens' pitches. The barrel twirled out toward the mound, and Clemens fired it at a stunned Piazza, later saying he had mistaken it for the ball.

This is the first time they've been on the same team.

"As far as Mike and I are concerned, we're past it," Clemens said. "I'm just glad I'm pitching to him and don't have to face him."

Later, as the questions persisted, Clemens added: "You guys are hitting this way too hard. It's not that big of a deal. Maybe up there [in New York] it is, but down here it's not that big of a deal. I'm going to pass on all of those questions.."

But judging from Piazza's comments, he may still have some lingering resentment. Consider the way Piazza reacted when asked about the traditional pregame meeting between pitcher and catcher: "Obviously, we're going to have to talk," Piazza said. "If there's a need for that, fine. If not, no big deal."

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